Where to start? Maybe with this piece by Le Monde Diplo’s Alain Gresh today (or anyway, recently.) In it, he writes:
- The opposition cannot bring down the government, and the government cannot put down an uprising that has a surprising determination and courage…
I was writing the exact same thing more than a year ago.
Who listened then? And here we are, one year later. And yes, there is still deadlock.
In the intervening twelve months, there have been several periods when the well-rewarded people sitting in comfy think-tanks in Washington DC, and their allies, were absolutely convinced that Pres. Bashar al-Asad was “just on the point of leaving office.” I recall one phone call three months or so ago with someone who’d recently left Thinktankistan for (equally nicely paid) “service” in the U.S. government when he said, “Yes, we in [this branch of the US government] have all been amazed that Bashar did not do as we thought he would, and take this opportunity to take Asma and the children on a lovely long vacation somewhere.”
(As though the departure of Pres. Asad would somehow have “solved” anything?)
But really, that was the entire gameplan of Hillary Clinton’s State department; and it was based on a completely faulty understanding of the situation inside Syria.
Back to Alain Gresh, whom I have met once or twice and is generally fairly smart about developments in the Mashreq. It is, however, his point of departure in this latest piece that puzzles me. He writes:
- Should we do nothing? There are other options than military intervention. Economic pressure on Syria has already made some middle-class government supporters reconsider, and this could be increased, as long as it targeted the leaders and not the population… ”
Who is the “we” in whose name he is writing there? That is the puzzle for me. Truly.
Are French (or one-generation-on, French-naturalized) intellectuals like Alain Gresh easily able to identify themselves with the policies of their national government, which would be one version of the “we” he is speaking of here? Or is it the kind of airy-fairy, untethered, liberal-universalistic “we” whom he is claiming to represent?
But really, why should anyone who is not a Syrian claim to have any kind of a right to speak about what should happen in that beleaguered country– now, or at any other point?
Maybe I’m just jaded about the claims of “liberal” universalism these days because so many of my liberal-universalist friends have found themselves so easily seduced by the claims of the militarists– in re Syria, as Libya, and elsewhere.
* * *
But I truly do not understand how liberal universalists in the west, whose views, representations, and analyses of what is happening in Myanmar/Burma in these months are so uniformly calm and supportive of the wrenchingly negotiated transition to greater democracy there absolutely never stop to ask whether a similar process may not also be the best thing for Syria today (as it was for South Africa, 20 years ago.)
Why is Syria’s current government uniquely picked out by these so-called liberals as worthy of their rage, anger, and militarized “intervention” when those other authoritarian regimes, actually, committed far worse abuses against their citizens over the course of many decades?
Why the racism that is deeply embedded in these kinds of judgments?
And yes, “Avaaz”, I am speaking about you, too.
* * *
This intense partisanship and Asad-hatred of the liberals in the west have had real conseuqneces, too. Among other things, they have helped strengthen the hand of the really nasty, neoconservative and neo-colonial interventionists within our respective western societies. And they have held out false hopes of significant western-government and western-society support to those among the oppositionists in Syria who have been open to the idea of exploiting western backing (including military backing) for their own gain.
As I tweeted a few weeks back: This has many of the same aspects of tragedy as Hungary 1956 and Basra 1991. Almost criminally irresponsible, I would say.
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It’s been hard, sitting on the relative sidelines over recent months, seeing so many of my longstanding warnings go unheeded– regarding Syria, as regarding Palestine, Iraq, U.S. militarism in general, and a number of other issues. But I fought the good (rhetorical) fight here at JWN and in other forums of public discourse, for so many years. Completely, I should note, unpaid by anyone; but that’s okay. Now, I am more in a phase of building up this institution that is my publishing company, Just World Books. It’s a different set of challenges, but also over the long haul extremely worthwhile and, I hope, transformative of the discourse. I am, it should go without saying, really proud of the publishing we’ve done so far, and excited about the projects we have immediately ahead.
(I really appreciate all support JWN readers can give to the publishing house. Check out our list of great titles– and buy profligately from among them!– at the JWB webstore, here.)
So here, anyway is a thought for Easter/Passover. Let’s work for a lot less militarism and lot fewer calls for “liberal interventionism” (which only too often ends up meaning only war), from everyone in the disproportionately powerful west… And let’s have a lot more focusing on how conflicts can be resolved in ways other than escalation and war; in ways, that is, that aim specifically at the de-escalation of tensions, an end to finger-pointing, and the knowingly partisan treatment of claims about each side’s commission of atrocities. Let’s remember that Syria is a complex, sizeable country that is the homeland of its own people. It is not, and should not be turned into, a playground for other countries’ grudge matches and competitions (as happened, only too tragically, to the citizenries of Lebanon and Iraq.) Let’s look at other examples around the world where peoples won expanded rights and empowerment through negotiated transitions. And let’s, honestly, forget all this misguided and misapplied business about outsiders having any pre-ordained “responsibility” or even, heaven forbid, “duty” to intervene.
I’m sorry, Alain Gresh. I don’t mean to take after you in person. I know you’re a smart, sensitive, and concerned analyst. But there was just something about that “we” you used in that article that seemed badly out of place…